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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Confidence from Obeying God's Command (3:23-24)
Confidence from Obeying God's Command (3:23-24)

In verse 22 we read that we receive what we ask for in prayer because we obey [God's] commands and do what pleases [God]. The plural (commands) of verse 22 now becomes a singular (command) in verse 23, but the one command has two aspects: to believe in Jesus and to love one another. Throughout the epistle the Elder has separated these commands, some times emphasizing the command to love one another (2:8; 3:11-18; 4:7-8, 19-21; 5:1-5) and sometimes the command to believe in Jesus (2:22-25; 4:1-3, 13-15; 5:5-12). But love and belief are not two separate com mands one must keep in order to be a child of God. They are two different expressions of the indwelling of God in us, for God is love and as perfect love sent Jesus the Son to give us life. Thus the two commands are really one, since the pre-eminent expression of God's love for us is the giving of Jesus Christ to us. (The implicit relationship between belief and love is developed at greater length in 4:7-21.)

When John writes that those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them, he does not mean that obedience to the commands is a prerequisite to God's dwelling with us. One cannot justly claim a rela tionship to God without that obedience, for a child of God will naturally seek to do what pleases God. But becoming a child of God does not come about by our efforts; the very image of being born of God suggests otherwise. The relationship is established first, by God; our part is ma nifested in obedience to God's commands. Thus there is mutual indwelling: we can be said to live out our lives in the sphere of obedience and love for God, and in turn God cherishes, protects and lives with us.

Further evidence of God's presence with us is the Spirit, which has been given to us. Here John is not likely referring to an "inner testimony" or conviction that the Spirit gives us, a sort of feeling that we are indeed in relationship with God. To reduce the Spirit's witness to a purely internal experience or feeling would grant too much ground to the secessionists, who could easily make the same claim. The Elder's way of writing implies that the Christian belief that God dwells in them can be verified (Houlden 1973:106-7). As always in 1 John, the author points to the tangible manifestation and visible expression of claims to know God. As will become clear in the following chapter, we know that we have the Spirit because only God's spirit inspires true confession of Christ (4:1-6) and empowers us to love one another (4:7-21). Because the Spirit is present with us, we keep the command of verse 23: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another.

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